By Michael J. ARVIZU
It was about 9:30 in the morning on Wednesday, May 21.
Deborah Goodale and husband Reno carefully made their way through the charred remains of the Backdoor Bakery and Cafe in Sunland, gutted during an early morning fire on May 11, in order to do inventory.
Clouds darkened the sky, and it was a little chilly, adding poignancy to the already blackened walls, melted furniture and water-damaged floor.
“Oh, my God, it looks awful!” Deborah exclaimed as she made her way in.
Wearing thick rain boots, she sloshed her way through a makeshift entrance, past the dining area, and into the kitchen. Most of her homemade foodstuffs, made from scratch, were destroyed, including milk, butter, eggs, cheeses, grass-fed meats, pickles, creams, fillings, desserts, dressings, condiments, herbs, spices, potatoes, assorted vegetables, doughs and at least 100 pounds of chocolate.
“More than you could ever write down,” Deborah said.
A book, containing at least 500 recipes collected over a period of 30 years, was salvaged, albeit the pages were fused together.
The office, adjacent to the kitchen, has a skylight, possibly caused by a partial collapse of the roof. In better times, Deborah said, the natural light would have been a nice addition.
“It’s a real sense of loss, because there’s 25, 30 years of equipment gathered up,” Reno said. “I don’t think anything is salvageable from the inside, maybe a couple of little hand items or something.”
The cause of the fire is still undetermined, Reno said. “It’s been a week, and still I’ve gotten no answers,” he said.
“We believe it’s a total loss,” said Michael Bitetti of Northridge-based 911 Restoration, which has helped to secure the site. Rebuilding could take months, he said.
The Backdoor Bakery and Cafe can trace its origins to 1989 in Silver Lake, where it operated until January 2008 due to issues with the landlord, Deborah said. The Goodales, unable to find a new location for their business, took a respite. It wasn’t until 2011 that they settled on Sunland for their new location in a small shopping center on Foothill Boulevard. They opened on June 17 of that year.
The restaurant recently relocated to a bigger building in the same shopping center, at 8658 Foothill Blvd. in Sunland.
“It’s really distressing. My kids cried when we drove past,” said Kathy Anderson, a Shadow Hills resident and Backdoor Bakery patron. “It represented something in this community that the community wants so badly.”
Deborah and Reno were making their trek through the bakery at a time of day when it would be normally filled with customers. This fact was not lost on Deborah.
She would be serving traditional breakfast fare, such as eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast, oatmeal, French toast, breakfast quesadillas, and breakfast burritos – all made from scratch, a fact she is proud of.
“I really miss my food. I love my food. It’s very surreal,” she said, her voice cracking. “When I talk to my employees, that’s when I get choked up. It’s very hard to not work.”
Most of her 14 employees, Deborah said, lost their jobs due to the fire. Whether or not they will get paid in the coming weeks will depend on insurance. Most of her front-of-house employees have already filed for unemployment, she said.
“They did a really good job with everything,” said Micah Greasby, Backdoor Bakery’s in-house musician, who described the restaurant as more of a café than a bakery, a notch above gourmet, but with a homey feel. “The food was amazing. I hope they build something that reflects them.”
Deborah left home at around 4:30 a.m. on what was expected to be a busy Mother’s Day. A Mother’s Day special was planned – vol-au-vent, a puff pastry made out of two soft poached eggs served with the cafe’s homemade hollandaise sauce and bacon, with a garnish of fresh tomatoes.
“I was so excited,” she said. “It was the first really fancy thing we’ve done here. This was different.”
As she drove east on Foothill Boulevard toward the bakery, she saw the fire trucks. When she saw the building on fire was her own, she burst into tears.
“It was kind of freaky,” she said.
The bakery will have to start from scratch, Deborah said, and it is premature to envision how the rebuilt bakery will look like.
But they will rebuild, she said, with some fundraisers already taking shape in order to assist in that effort.
“They filled your heart and your belly,” Greasby said.